Swimming in Fruit

Author: Meera, July 12, 2017

Our cherry trees became so heavily laden with fruit this year I couldn’t work fast enough to make the fruit into cookies and pies and jars of jam, conserve, and chutney.

 

 

What fruit the birds and squirrels didn’t devour ended up drying on the trees and looking like ornaments. I’m heartened that at least the wildlife will have something to forage on through fall and winter.

 

 

Once cherry picking season is over, I can hardly face another  piece of cherry pie (no matter how flaky the crust).

Ripe cherries make a lovely filling for a delicious  pie

 

 

 

The apricot trees did a massive drop of their fruit and seemingly all at once. I made more jam than we’ll probably eat, dried some, and gave away more than a few full  buckets of cots to neighbors and friends. I also had to do a messy cleanup of fruit on the ground.

 

In the cycle now are the summer peaches; so, here I go again  . . swimming in fruit.

 

 

Fresh Elberta peaches are firm and juicy, perfect for summer dessert

Ripe Elberta peaches are perfect for eating fresh or preserving

 

Next year, I’m going to get my act together early with  teams of backyard pickers who can help me remove the fruit, divide it, and distribute it. Right now, however, I’ve got peaches to pick and preserve. The summer pears and figs will be next.

 

 

Pick Bartlett pears before they get soft and ripen in a bag to get peak flavor

Pick pears and ripen in a brown bag to two days for peak flavor

 

 

I’m not complaining; I’m enthralled that all this bounty is due to the work of our industrious little honeybees. All this fruit and I haven’t even mentioned finding time to harvest honey. Yet, the bees don’t stop, so neither will I.

 

 

 

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If you enjoy reading about farmette topics like keeping bees and chickens, caring for an orchard, or growing heirloom herbs and vegetables, check out my mystery series from Kensington Publishing (due out September 26, 2017).

 

 

These novels feature a whodunnit for you to solve and are filled with farming facts, trivia, and delicious recipes. The novels and my other books are available in traditional and online bookstores everywhere. Seehttp://tinyurl.com/yb42zd2d

 

Murders at a N. California winery is a catalyst for ex-cop turned farmette owner Abigail Mackenzie

A mystery on a N. California winery

 

 

 

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available September 27, 2016

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series

 

 

 

My debut novel, the first in a series of three cozy mysteries set on the Henny Penny Farmette

BEELINE TO MURDER, the first in a series of cozy mysteries

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Plant for the Pollinators

Author: Meera, June 20, 2017

I seldom need an occasion to put in another bed of flowers, but this is National Pollinator Week. I think a new bed is in order to attract local bees, birds, bats, and butterflies–all considered pollinators. Having these small creatures around benefits landscapes, gardens, and orchards.

 

Between showers and periods of sunlight, this beauty showed up in the bee garden

Between showers and periods of sunlight, this beauty showed up in the bee garden

 

 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has noted that over 75 percent of our plants are pollinated by birds, animals, and insects. We can help ensure these creatures will be around for a long time if we restore their habitats and ensure they have food and water.

 

 

 

A longhorn bee is twice the size of a honeybee

A longhorn bee is twice the size of a honeybee

 

 

 

There are many lovely plants you can grow that don’t require a lot of care.

 

 

 

  • lavender
  • bee balm
  • echinacea
  • sage
  • cilantro
  • thyme
  • sunflowers
  • sweet alyssum
  • anemone
  • borage
  • geraniums
  • scented pelargoniums
  • mint

 

The florets are falling off and the seeds have formed on this giant sunflower head

Sunflowers are a favorite of bees and the seeds are loved by squirrels and birds

 

 

 

 

A tapestry of colorful herbs and flowers beautifies your landscape and pollinators love the diversity. If you don’t have a lot of space, grow some of these plants in planter boxes, clay pots, or other types of containers.

 

Robins drinking from a pottery saucer

Robins drinking from a pottery saucer

 

 

 

Put in a water feature, too, such as a table-top or larger fountain that recycles water. Even a pottery saucer filled each day can attract pollinators.

 

 

It won’t take long for the bees and hummingbirds to find the water. Their frequent visits are fun to watch, and they’ll likely be sipping throughout the day.

 

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If you enjoy reading about farmette topics, check out my Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries from Kensington Publishing. My newest novel includes delicious recipes, tips on keeping bees and chickens, and much more. Click on this URL for more information, http://tinyurl.com/ya5vhhpm

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Coming Sept. 2017

Coming Sept. 2017

 

 

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What’s Not to Love about Edible Figs?

Author: Meera, September 8, 2016

Many backyard gardeners start checking their fig trees this time of year for ripe fruit. Most figs grown for their fruit bear two crops a year (spring and fall). When figs are ripe, the globular fruit becomes soft and hangs downward from the branch. This fruit will not ripen on the windowsill or in a paper bag, so picking fruit while it is still firm is not advised.

 

ripe figs sm web

 

I grow White Genoa, Adriatic, and Brown Turkey figs on my farmette. One of my nearest neighbors grows the Mission fig, which is a very large tree taking up most of his backyard. This time of year, his tree is heavily laden with purple-black fruit. Throughout the fall, that Mission fig tree is frequently visited by the birds, squirrels, and raccoons that eat the fruit.

 

Cooks appreciate the versatility of figs for cooking. There are many ways to prepare them. Grilled figs are delicious when served on a crostini with a dollop of goat cheese and drizzled with honey. The pulp can be used to make fig bars and other types of cookies. Luscious, juicy figs may be made into chutney or jam, baked in cakes, paired with almonds in a tart, sliced into salads, grilled with lamb, or served simply with port.

 

Fig trees are easy to grow, too. They need full sun and good drainage; many cultivars are drought tolerant. Lightly prune as necessary in winter. Enjoy.

 

*          *          *

 

 

If you enjoy reading about farmette topics (including gardening, beekeeping, and delicious recipes), check out my cozy mysteries A BEELINE TO MURDER and also THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE in the Henny Penny Farmette series (from Kensington Publishing).

 

 

 

These novels are available through online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books, and Walmart as well as from traditional bookstores everywhere.

 

 

The first novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

See, http://tinyurl.com/hxy3s8q

Now available in mass market paperback, this debut novel launched the Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries and sold out its first press run.

 

 

 

 

The second cozy  mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

See, http://tinyurl.com/h4kou4g

The second cozy mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 27, 2016, is now available on Net Galley (netgalley.com) for professionals and readers who write reviews.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once observed, “The earth laughs in flowers.” Among the many flowers I plant around the Henny Penny Farmette each year, sunflowers are my favorites.

 

 

What’s not to love about these gorgeous beauties that inspired master artists like Van Gogh, Monet, and Gauguin as well as farmers like my grandmother who put them in fruit jars and crockery to brighten the rooms of her Missouri farmhouse?

 

 

I like to grow smaller ones at the back of a flower bed and the giant ones against walls or at the back of my patch of summer corn.

 

 

 

These sunflowers stand about 12 feet tall and produce several heads

These sunflowers stand about 12 feet tall and produce several heads. Heritage varieties produce several heads.

 

 

 

Giant sunflowers need space to grow to full size since they will grow well over six feet. In my garden, they tower over the corn. Bees love them for their pollen. Kids love them when the foliage of the plants create a secret fort or a fairy circle. Humans, birds, and squirrels love them for their seeds.

 

 

 

 

The florets are falling off and the seeds have formed on this giant sunflower head
Giant sunflower heads are a rich source of pollen for honeybees

 

 

 

For best results, plant giant sunflowers at the back of a garden. They need good soil and full sun. Plant when the danger of frost has past. A rule of thumb to follow is to plant them about one inch deep and six inches apart. While the seeds are germinating, keep the soil moist.

 

 

Later on, when the plants stand about three inches tall, you can thin them. Leave about one foot between each plant. This enables a strong root system for form. The stalks will become sturdy and measure about three to four inches in circumference when fully grown.

 

 

Giant sunflowers add dramatic size and color against stone walls, garden sheds, and wooden fences
Giant sunflowers add dramatic size and color against stone walls, garden sheds, and fences

 

 

First come the gorgeous petals in green to yellow and then bright yellow. As the bees pollinate the florets and they drop, the seeds will mature. Seeds are either gray or brown in color.

 

 

I always cut the heads when the seeds are plump, firm, and begin to drop. I let the heads dry well in the sun for days before I remove the seeds. Fully dry seeds can be stored in containers for human consumption or to be fed to the squirrels and birds. Don’t forget to save some for planting in next year’s garden.

 

*          *          *

 

 

If you enjoy reading about farmette topics (including gardening, beekeeping, and delicious recipes), check out my cozy mysteries A BEELINE TO MURDER and also THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE in the Henny Penny Farmette series (from Kensington Publishing).

 

 

 

These novels are available through online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books, and Walmart as well as from traditional bookstores everywhere.

 

 

The first novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

See, http://tinyurl.com/hxy3s8q

Now available in mass market paperback, this debut novel launched the Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries and sold out its first press run.

 

 

 

 

The second cozy  mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

See, http://tinyurl.com/h4kou4g

The second cozy mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 27, 2016, is now available on Net Galley (netgalley.com) for professionals and readers who write reviews.

 

 

 

 

 

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Plants to Attract Hummingbirds

Author: Meera, April 10, 2016

It’s hummingbird mating season. We’re seeing iridescent males with ruby throats engaged in amazing aerobatic flight patterns to attract females. To draw these birds to our garden, we’ve put in plants  they are known to seek out.

 

 

 

 

Cosmos, corn, pomegranate, and grapes

Cosmos bloom in many colors ranging from white to pink and red

 

 

 

To attract them, we’ve planted flowers with brightly colored blooms such as purple-spired agastache, red blooming wild columbine, cosmos (pink, white, and red) scarlet ipomopsis (also known as the hummingbird plant), larkspur (Giant Imperial has colors ranging from pink, dark blue, light blue, carmine, rose, salmon, and white), lobelia (various shades), poppies, and salvia (Fairy Queen has a brilliant purple color).

 

poppies sm web

 

 

 

This morning as I was inspecting the peach tree, a male with a ruby throat perched on a branch right above the branch tip I was holding. I love seeing these little birds who are voracious feeders, consuming daily nearly half their body weight in nectar and feeding from the sugar-water feeders I’ve hung near my kitchen garden window six to eight times an hour.

 

 

Many of the above-mentioned plants also attract butterflies. Sow a few of each of these seeds and you’ll have visitors to your garden throughout the spring and summer months (or during each plant’s blooming season).

 

 

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Growing and Sharing Farmette Figs

Author: Meera, September 12, 2015

It’s that time of year when our fig trees reward us with a second crop of sweet, juicy fruit, best eaten right from the tree.

 

 

We aren’t the only ones who love to eat figs. The birds and raccoons are leaving telltale marks that they’re helping us devour this sweet fruit. And it’s no wonder.

 

 

Figs are a nutrient-rich food with antioxidant properties. They contain magnesium, vitamin B6, fiber, and beneficial amounts of calcium and iron.

 

 

 

The White Genoa fig produces sweet dessert figs, twice a year

The White Genoa fig produces sweet dessert figs, twice a year

 

 

 

We grow a couple of varieties of figs on the farmette–a White Genoa and Brown Turkey. Our neighbors also have towering fig tree with a canopy that reaches over the neighbor’s house. The tree is loaded now with baseball-size, dark purple fruit. I believe it’s a Black Mission fig, introduced into California by Father Junipero Serra who planted them in 1769 at the San Diego mission.

 

 

Our Brown Turkey fig produces a crop twice each year. The first crop, known as the breba grows on last season’s wood. The second, and more abundant crop, grows on new wood.The fig has rose-colored flesh inside a brownish-purple skin that tends to crack open with the fig is overripe.

 

 

The White Genoa is self-fruitful and has yellow-green skin with strawberry-colored pulp. The taste is mild and sweet and can be enjoyed as fresh fruit or paired with tangy goat cheese. The tree bears two crops each year and benefits from a vigorous pruning in the autumn after the figs are harvested.

 

 

Both figs will lose their leaves, leaving only their bark color and scaffolding as winter interest in the garden. The White Genoa’s bark is light gray whereas the Brown Turkey has a darker shade of grayish-brown bark.

 

 

These trees can be grown in containers and kept to about six feet tall for people who don’t have a lot of space for a tree that can otherwise reach 15 to 20 feet.

 

 

 

Figs aren’t fussy about soil, but won’t tolerate excessive water. They like the sun and are pretty hardy here in Northern California. Many figs are self-fruitful, but keeping bees means I have pollinators to help the fig crops along.

 

 

 

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Drying heads of sunflowers and storing the seeds is easy. If your sunflowers have dry heads, ranging in size from saucers to large dinner plates, and they have turned brown and most of the petals have fallen off, the seeds are ready for harvesting.

 

 

The florets are falling off and the seeds have formed on this giant sunflower head

The florets are falling off and the seeds have formed on this giant sunflower head

 

 

Simply place a paper bag over the drying head and band it or tie with string to keep the birds and squirrels from foraging. Trust me, they’ll eat all your seeds if you permit it. The bag keeps the seed from dropping onto the ground to be foraged by wildlife or to generate new plants.

 

 

I like to the cut off the head, leaving eight or so inches of stem on it. This way, there is stem to tie and hang so that the head is positioned upside down in a bag. This position can facilitate the drying and captures all the seed while hanging in a drying shed. Retain this bag of seeds for replanting. The  seeds are how the sunflower reproduces itself. Sunflower heads can hold thousands of seeds, depending on the size.

 

 

A word of caution here: don’t harvest the seeds and leave them drying in a tray in your shed the way I did. That will attract rodents. A coffee can with a plastic lid works great for storing sunflower seeds.

 

 

The best seeds for snacking are the gray and white striped sunflowers. There are other types of seed–for example, a black one and grayish-white seed, but the striped seeds are delicious. After you chew open the hull and spit it out, there’s a lovely seed inside it that tastes great and is nutritious.

 

 

 

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The florets are falling off and the seeds have formed on this giant sunflower head

The yellow florets of this giant sunflower head are rich sources of pollen for honeybees

 

 

 

Giant sunflowers need space to grow to full size; they can reach six or more feet tall. Bees love them for their pollen. Kids love them when the foliage of the plants create a secret fort or a fairy circle. Humans, birds, and squirrels love them for their seeds.

 

 

For best results, plant giant sunflowers at the back of a garden. They need good soil and full sun. Plant when the danger of frost has past. A rule of thumb to follow is to plant them about one inch deep and six inches apart. While the seeds are germinating, keep the soil moist.

 

 

Later on, when the plants stand about three inches tall, you can begin to thin them. Leave about one foot between each plant. This can enable a strong root system for form. The stalks will become sturdy and measure about three to four inches in circumference when fully grown.

 

 

Giant sunflowers add dramatic size and color against stone walls, garden sheds, and wooden fences

Giant sunflowers add dramatic size and color against stone walls, garden sheds, and wooden fences

 

 

First come the gorgeous petals in green to yellow and then bright yellow. As the bees pollinate the florets and they drop, the seeds will mature. Seeds are either gray or brown in color.

 

 

I always cut the heads when the seeds are plump, firm, and begin to drop. I let the heads dry well in the sun for days before I remove the seeds. Fully dry seeds can be stored in containers for human consumption or to be fed to the squirrels and birds.

 

*          *          *

 

 

If you enjoy reading about farmette topics (including gardening, beekeeping, and delicious recipes), check out my cozy mysteries A BEELINE TO MURDER and also THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE in the Henny Penny Farmette series (from Kensington Publishing).

 

 

 

These novels are available through online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books, and Walmart as well as from traditional bookstores everywhere.

 

 

The first novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

See, http://tinyurl.com/hxy3s8q

Now available in mass market paperback, this debut novel launched the Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries and sold out its first press run.

 

 

 

 

The second cozy  mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

See, http://tinyurl.com/h4kou4g

The second cozy mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 27, 2016

 

 

 

 

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The Versatility of Sunflowers

Author: Meera, July 13, 2013
Giant sunflowers are great at the back of the garden

Grow giant sunflowers at the back of the garden or along a fence to support thick stalks and large dinner-plate sized heads

 

 

We planted a few sunflowers this year. One rises up maybe ten feet tall and its thick stalk supports a head the size of a toilet seat, no kidding. Sunflowers are beloved by many gardeners because they have myriad uses.

 

A few notable things about sunflowers: their lovely yellow petals can be used to make dye. Their stalk pith can be used to make paper. The seeds feed humans as well as animals and birds. And oil from the seed is used in cooking and also to create assorted cosmetic products and soaps.

 

 

Sunflowers come in a range of sizes

Sunflowers come in a range of sizes

 

 

Growing sunflowers is easy and the plant itself is fairly trouble-free. They like their summers hot and long and thrive in plenty of sunshine. You can plant them along a fence to help support the giant heads and thick stalks or tuck the smaller sized sunflowers into beds. They aren’t fussy about soil and do best when watered deeply but not often.

 

 

They attract butterflies, bees, birds, and squirrels. Dry the heads by hanging them upside down. I like to buy organic, non-genetically modified seed and save it from the heads each year in paper envelopes to plant the next summer.

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